Category Archives: humor

Teaching & Learning Another Language

imageLearning a language can be compared to dieting. I takes effort, consistency, and time. If you don’t stay on it, your effort is wasted. Learning is forever. It’s an easier process if you have someone to help you along. I mean, how do you have conversations with yourself? And, conversing is the key.

Words are just words if you can’t use them to express yourself. Grammar is only important when you have enough words to put sentences together. If you were a mechanic you would need  to know the proper placement of the parts: such is grammar. It just tells you how and where to put the words so they make sense.

When I was teaching in ESL schools, I urged the students to use only English during class, because, as they readily admitted, when the class was over they tended to hang out with other students from their own county, who spoke their native language.

Alessandro & me in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome

Alessandro & me in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome

Most online English classes have set agendas. They aren’t much fun. In my online classes you  are free to discuss whatever subjects you want or need to discuss-well legal stuff. Maybe you are preparing for the TOEFLand need to identify key words, maybe you are writing an essay, and need to proof it, or discuss the content, maybe you need to understand some academic language that just doesn’t make sense because you don’t understand the reference. Maybe you just met a beautiful person whom you would like to date, and you need a few pointers, or ideas. In my classes, you will learn the grammar painlessly while discussing subjects you care about.

imageAs a storyteller, stand-up comic, writer, world traveler, mother and Jack-of-all trades, I have vast experience (and the perspective that goes with it), Email me for rates and payment information, or any questions. Read some of my blogs to get a better feel for who I am and what I write. Hope to hear from you.

Murphy’s law and Chinatown in Roma.

imageIt was unusual for me to have dire thoughts prior to leaving on a trip. But, this time I did. I had visions of being robbed, left alone, lost…. I think they came from the guide books and a travel book my friend sent me. ” Watch your stuff!” Beware of late-night train & bus stations, keep you money secure in your belt.” Maybe it’s because I just felt too lucky, and too blessed- the shoe will fall. What ever silliness runs through one’s head like a bullet train, it is hard to drive those thoughts away.

It all started well. My flight was on time from the U.S. My burly English seat companion was of my ilk. We slept and laughed-slept and laughed. The flight from London was two hours late.

In Rome I found the train. Two ticket machines were defunct. But finally, I got one. When I was taking it out of the tray, I spotted a 20 euro note on the ground. Found money is a good sign. To counter that, the last train was pulling out of the station when I got there. I ran for it anyway. I was the last person standing in the cavernous station. Alone. A guy looking through the garbage cans was working the perimeter of the place. He looked at me and passed. Finally, an employee opened a door. “Last train. Go to bus.” It was English-enough to make me feel better.image

I found the bus. The passengers were sitting patiently, waiting to leave when the driver came in and yelled at an obviously gay, young, Asian passenger across the aisle from me. “Get off the bus!” He yelled something about his purse. The passengers sided with the passenger. “It’s just a purse. Just a friggin purse!” They yelled at him. the young  man held his ground. (and niggled the driver just a bit) “I’m never getting off this bus!!” Ah, I could have been in New York in the 70’s.

20 min later, I got out of the bus, took a cab driven by a tout driver who preys on tourists, ( even though my shoes DO NOT LOOK LIKE I AM A TOURIST )and, because I had no idea how far the hostel was, took him up on his offer of 20 Euros for a three or four block trip. 20. Easy come: easy go.
(Btw, it was the second time I’d been gifted a 20 dollar bill on the ground in a week!)

At the hostel the night guy said there was a problem. “What problem?” I asked nicely. I have been on the road 24 hours, I am tired, cranky and need to sleep. And, I have a reservation.”
“The hostel has been closed. I can send you to the Downtown Hostel. ” “Will you pay for it, otherwise I am not going anywhere.”
He looked at the computer and called someone. ”
“Good luck. You can sleep here tonight.”
I slept like a baby. Now I am in the Downtown Alessandro, Roma. My bed is comfortable, my belly full. Two slices of mushroom pizza-2 Euros, one half bottle of vino tinto-2.5. Huge fresh strawberries, 1.5 E. And, image
imageI found Rome’s Chinatown. See. Good luck everywhere
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Get Off the Bus

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of persons in the US over 65 (officially elderly) has jumped by a factor of 11! in the past decade. We are growing by an average of 2.8 % annually. Well, our numbers are. Personally, I am shrinking faster than that. I have to hurry before I am too short to ride The Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. cyclone

Seniors make up the wealthiest niche market in the developed world. As travelers, they are said to want comfort, are cautious, safety oriented, demanding, and complaining. Additionally, they are quick to sue if anything goes awry. It makes sense.

A majority of these seniors live in gated communities, which comprises 10% of the US housing market. According to an article by Rich Benjamin in the New York Times, these communities “attract like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders.” In other words they distrust those beyond the pale. However, they have a staggering amount of money to spend, and the tourist market is working overtime to accommodate them.

tourist bus

Daily, buses full of middle class and upscale tourists from around the world clog the narrow streets of ancient cities forcing the residents to wait until they pass. Tourist companies pick and choose shops and restaurants that are ‘perceived safe’ for their clients. They are cautioned not to eat or drink from local street stands, or buy from unapproved merchants. God forbid they should go out alone at night. So, from their sheltered, cushy, climate controlled seats, perched high above the streets, these people observe the surroundings while being informed about it by the guide’s well rehearsed discourse. Later when relating their experiences at cocktail parties, they say, “Oh, yes. I’ve been there, I’ve seen that, or those people. It (or they) were charming, or quaint, or poor.”

The tourist industry is attracting like-minded physically secluded, tourists who seek shelter from the very places they tour. It’s crazy.

If you have the slightest inclination to step out a bit, to experience a different culture, or mingle with the locals, you have to get off the bus. Let that be your first adventure.

Adventure by definition means taking a risk, however small. Trust that people around the world are kind and curious. They want to know you, and are eager to share. As Rudyard Kipling said, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

She Cooked the Bones of the Dog!

I was sitting on the deck having lunch a few minutes ago when Pablo, one of the biology students came out of the laboratory and exclaimed, “Oh my god, she cooked the bones of the dog!”
“Cooked the bones?” I ask.
“Yes.” He’s serious.
“What dog?”
Tuito is the camp dog. He’s handsome, of medium height, has short, mostly white hair with some spots of black and brown. He looks a little like the RCA dog.
“Tuito? He’s dead?” I’m shocked. I’m even more shocked that they would cook his bones.
“ No, he is there.” He pointed to the lab door.
Alejandro who speaks English pretty well laughed.
“Not the bones, the balls.”
Pablo, “Yes, she cooked the balls of Tuito.”
Ahh. “Cut the balls.” I get it now.
“It’s a good thing,” I say. “Tuito gets into fights, and he produces puppies. You need a job if you are going to have puppies. Remember that.”
“Tuito will be sad.” Pablo adds.
“Only for a little while, then he will forget he even had balls.”
They shook their heads as if to say, Ruby, you obviously do not understand.
Maybe not. I’m a womam and I’m an ESL teacher. What I understand is that pronunciation is important.

Zancudo. Mosquito. Mosca

Each morning when I wake up here in the jungle, encased in netting that ostensibly has kept the mosquitoes outside during the night, I lie still and mentally do a body check. This doesn’t involve touching myself. That comes later when I’m applying the hydrocortisone cream. I’ve discovered if I am very still, I can sense the new bites before they itch, which, incidentally, doesn’t take long.

This morning it was my back. In spite of several applications of Deet poison on my clothes and my skin, each day, evening and before bed, I wake up with new welts. Some of them are very small; some are grande. Lying there, I ponder if one mosquito marched across my back, munching as it traversed the white skin, or were there several at different times, and each had made their own joyful discovery of the new untrammeled expanse? My friends here think probably the former.

Yesterday, I was lying down, reading before a nap, when I saw an offender trying unsuccessfully to find its way out of the enclosure. I smashed it. It’s body spewed bright red blood on the sheet covering a section as large as my ring fingernail. I understand that one example does not prove a theory, but it’s probably enough to apply for grant money for further studies.

When I crawled out of bed, and slipped into my shoes, I realized that my feet were itchy too. Ah, yes. Lumps and bumps scattered across the top of my arch and one under it. I’ve only been in the Amazon jungle a week, so I have not yet resigned myself to being under attack 24/7, but neither have I decided on my defense against the voracious bastards.

However, now I understand why the colonialists (who I used to hold in contempt) introduced new species to contain the spread of what they perceived to be undesirable or invasive in the new world. Of course it fucked up the balance of things, but, in this case, I’m thinking bats. Clearly there aren’t enough here. We need more. I read somewhere that in one night alone, a single bat can devour several times its weight in mosquitoes. That’s not enough. Not even close.

Everything’s gonna be alright.

Cathedral de Bolivar, Centro Bogota

Cathedral de Bolivar, Centro Bogota

It was an inauspicious beginning. I waited 12 hours to get a flight out of Charleston with the warning that the flight into Bogota was over booked too. So, I expected to sit in the Houston airport another 12 hours. Never give up hope. 11PM. I napped as seemingly hundreds of Colombians poured into the gate area. Finally, 11:40 I went up to the agent. “Any chance at all I’ll get on this flight?” “Si. No problem. That man will call your name in a few minutes” Woohoo!!

Soon, I was cozied into seat 3A. First class, room to sleep, a nice glass of red wine before take-off to help the process. When we were airborne I had another. The young, quite handsome, guy who spoke no English, next to me rolled over into the console between us  knocking the deep red zinfandel onto my beige jean jacket. “No problemo, I assured him. Esta solemento una jacketa.” Maybe I made sense. He got some paper towels  from the bano to help me clean up.

Protest photos on main ave in downtown. Mostly showing photos of the homeless

Protest photos on main ave in downtown. Mostly showing photos of the homeless

A few minutes later as I was filling out the tourist form, big drops of black ink dotted the form. I blotted them with my napkin and kept on. Later, the customs agent would peer at them  skeptically. “Ink, I said. Disculpe.” She waved me on.

In Bogota I went into the airport bathroom to freshen up, and found that my makeup Revlon (natural beige)  had spilled. Omg.  Such a sticky  substance.

At 9:30 am, Two hours later (24 hrs after I left Charleston) I was sleeping on a couch at La Pinta Hostel when Albero showed up. I had told him to wait until I called him, that I hadn’t had any sleep. He didn’t listen. He told the clerk at the hostel that he was taking me and would bring me back tomorrow. She smiled. I was whisked away.

Verduras & fruitas

Verduras & fruitas


Alberto's finca en San Francisco, Colombia

Alberto’s finca en San Francisco, Colombia



On the way to the Catherdral de Sal, he stopped at a house in Bogota. “It is my house, but I give it to my ex-wife because she give me children.” “Fair enough, I think.” He introduces us. Claire I think, but find out later it’s Clara. I like her. She gets into the car. 

Clara y Ruby

Clara y Ruby



The three of us sped off. For the the next 24 hours we tour the catherdral, have dinner, and spend the night at his lovely finca in the country.  In my honor Alberto plays John Phillip Souza marches and a compilation of classic country music.


Rio in Five Hours

Rio in five hours.

The towering 98ft limestone Cristo Redentor sits in the middle of the Tijuca national park, a tropical jungle smack in the middle of the city.
The artsy neighborhood of Santa Teresa, the Catedral Metropolitana downtown, (depending on who you talk to 26-46% of Brazilians are catholic) and 1300 foot high Sugarloaf, a huge granite and quartz rock that over looks Copacabana, and Ipanema beaches. Whew. This is the city version of eight cities in ten days.

A van full of folks from Europe, South Africa, Brazil, and the U.S.,   

 led by a young, fast talking guide sped through the city as if we were being pursued.

“When I say stick together, ju shud be together. When I say ju hav 20 minutes, ju hav that. If ju become lat, it is bad for ju-not for me. I tell ju that if ju are late ju will be sorry because ju will miss the sunset from Sugerloaf mountain and it is best part of trip!”
Warned, we careened around a narrow mountain road to a busy parking area where there were long lines of tourists waiting to board park vans to haul them further up the hill to the elevators or steps that finally end at the feet of the Cristo. 

 Raphael retrieved our tickets and whisked us past the queue.
At the base of the elevators he commanded, ” we meet here at twenty minutos past three. Everybody together. OK?” 
We were there. The van was not. We waited. Maybe fifteen minutes later we were winding our way down through the hilly neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Aging, elegant homes stood tall above us like so many widows with veiled eyes.   

On the downside slope below them were shops filled with what appeared to be artistic stuff. We didn’t have time to browse.
When we parked on a side street, Raphael announced:
“We will not see the sunset. The traffic is bad because it is Friday.”
“It’s Thursday!”we rang out.
“Ahhh. It’s bad traffic for Thursday,” he laughed.
You had to love him.
Separately we explored stairs  

that were covered with tiles representing places around the world.

“Remember. I say important to stay together. It’s worse here.”
By this time no one was listening. We certainly didn’t stay together. I wandered into Balaze Gardi. A truly wonderful exhibit of black and white photographs showing our planet’s troubling issue with water. For some sobering reminders have a look at his website.

 I wanted to see more, spend more time, but I didn’t. I hate being the last person on the bus.
Next, the conical cathedral. Lovely. I liked it best reflected in the office building across the street.

 “Five minutoes!” he called to us as we poured out of the van. “Only five!”
It was dark as we pulled up to Pao de Acucar or Sugarloaf which is actually two mountains.
Waiting for the Italian cable car up to the highest point there was a sign that read: ‘Do not feed the wild animals.” Now this is an extremely high volume pedestrian area. “What animals are here?” I asked.
Raphael, a master of improv, said ” Nada. No animales live here now. Maybe before.”
Then he recanted. “Monkeys. But it is winter and they are gone for the winter.”
Gone for the winter? The temperature is in the 70s-f. It is not cold. Nevertheless, maybe they have gone to Columbia, or Florida-somewhere quiet.
Finally we reached the top. The view was spectacular as promised. “We will meet together. Here. Twenty minutoes. Together.”

The Manifestation
 People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

“`What goes around comes around.” The hostel where I am staying is two blocks from the governor, Sergio Cabral’s, house. It’s a three story glass house    

on a corner directly across from the beach in Lablon, the suburb next to Ipanima. Wednesday night the ground floor windows were broken by folks protesting his corrupt politics.

Policia in full riot gear blocked the streets going north and south in order to confine marching angry protestors to the main east / west street and the street that runs along the beach directly in front of his house. To hear Brazilians talk, it seems that just about everyone but the wealthy are disgusted with him.

As the crowd passed our hostel  

the protestors were peaceable: a few in a party mood. A woman who lives in a favela spied me and began a weird verbal exchange-the kind I probably invoke with my limited language skills here.

“You Cheecaago?’
” No. California.”
“Ah. I know Cheecaago. I know you United States.”
“Not all of them. Only some.”
“You fala Inglas?”
Finally she had me dancing in the street and posing.   

She was with a man and maybe a very pretty girl-maybe her daughter.
When she found out it was against the rules of the hostel to buy her a beer they left.

I walked to the beach and to where the protesters had gathered: to listen, observe, and learn.
The avenue along the beach was quiet. A woman did yoga, dogs were being walked, skaters and bicycles went by.

A few minutes later, while walking home I heard, Bang! Bang! Bang!Then the smell of tear gas stung my eyes, my nose. Fires burning photos of the governor were lighting up the next block. We could hear glass breaking, ambulances screaming down the street. Our street. Suddenly it was quiet. I went to bed. The noise started again. I put the window down.
I took my hearing aids out of my ears and fell asleep.

In the morning I walked among the carnage. Broken glass littered the street. A clothing store on the corner was completely open-I’m pretty sure looted.   

Now it is covered with black boards that have slogans painted on them. Most of the banks along the main street had been vandalized. The young, professional Brazilian woman I walked with said, “the governor is probably in Cancun on the beach. He doesn’t give a shit.”

At the governors’ men were measuring to replace the glass. Policia guarded the street. She was right about him being gone. He is still gone.

No Reservations

Next month I’ll be traveling to South America- my first time on that continent. Brazil -Peru- Chile at least. I’m  excited.

As usual, I have no confirmed flights. I travel space available on UAL because my generous friend, Cecil, works for them. The passes he shares with me are greatly reduced,  and usually I travel business or first class, but occasionally I don’t get on the airplane-for hours, or days. Mine is the lowest priority. Full fare passengers go first, followed by  employees, their relatives & finally friends. We board according to the enployee’s seniority.  Sometimes that’s the adventure.

A few years ago I spent 5 days with my then 16 year old grand daughter, Cooper, in “Tokyo’s Narita Airport-along with a slew of other ‘buddies.’ We spent the nights partying with other guests in a  hotel on the opposite side of the runway; the days hanging out in the airport: playing cards, eating, shopping, laughing and complaining- waiting for available seats going anywhere in the US. New buddies with higher priorities than ours came and went. I learned never to travel at the end of summer.

Finally, the day before Cooper’s school started in Santa Monica she flipped. She cried actual tears-for school.  “I need to go to school! she insisted.” This was a new Cooper. One I had not seen since maybe sixth grade, when she looked forward to going to school. I hoped it was a turning point in appreciation for education. Capitulating, I paid  2grand! for a ticket for her to fly home.

Cooper & me

 That evening I got a seat to Hawaii, where I spent the next three days with my friend, Jessica, in Hilo.

Once I spent countless days at a friends while trying to get out of Chicago due to lousy weather. Another time, another city, hours and hours waiting for a seat because an entire class of students booked all of the seats. Once I had to fly into Denver after two days of waiting to get out of Anchorage to Los Angeles. 

Sometimes these happen because: I forget and travel on major holidays, when schools let out for the summer or spring break, or I’m just an idiot. I love it when it’s a good thing. I flew to Singapore with new Canadian friends when the flights to Bangkok were full due to it being the Chinese New Year holiday. I’ve been incredibility lucky to get the last seat on the plane more than once. 

Not having a plane reservation, means making hostel or hotel reservations pointless. Finding one on arrival requires patience, luck, and perseverance, but can have unexpected pleasant results.

Monos playing on hostel roof Manuel Antonia, Costa Rica


New friends in Ulaanbator, Mongolia

Once, some folks who showed me how to use the airport phone in Bangkok at 3am, helped me find a room, and gave me a tour of their incredible diverse city the next afternoon.

In Casa Blanca I arrived at the Guimere Hotel in a cab. “Do you have a reservation?” the desk clerk asked. “No. But, I’d like to have one. For 4 nights.”
“We are full, but wait a minute.”
“I have a cab waiting. I need to either go to another hotel or pay the driver and let him go”
‘Ok. Let him go.”
I spent the next few hours with their truly delightful chef, Mohammad while they evicted someone. He took me to the market, showed me the surrounding area, and back at the hotel, poured me a glass of wine while I talked to other tourists who had shown up. 

Chef Mohammed

 In that room  in 2009, I, and several  European guests and a couple of Moroccans watched Obama become the 43rd president of the United States. I cried. The following day the hotel owner gave me the daily newspaper written totally in Arabic. Front and center was a big photo of President Obama on stage surrounded by American flags; a corner insert showed Jessie Jackson weeping. I was so proud of my country. He stamped and signed the front page.It’s framed, waiting for me to settle somewhere.

No reservations. Perhaps it’s also a metaphor for being unrestrained, flexible-ready to light anywhere. It’s not extreme adventure, nor is it necessarily out of the way or weird- just free and freeing somehow. It’s a way to meet folks you wouldn’t ordinarily meet, eat places not in a guide book, and do things unplanned.

You are in charge of your time: to spend it with whomever you like, doing whatever you desire. 

drink & soak


On the Siberian Express train with the Aussies

               The Three S’s: Spitting, Staring, Shoving

It’s the little things. My first day in Beijing, China, I noticed a sign on the wall next to me in a restaurant. In both English and Chinese it read:
Spitting spreads tuberculous.  I thought, ” I know that, but do we need a sign to remind us? Turns out we do.

Chinese men and to a lesser degree, women, spit freely- anywhere and everywhere. The streets are dotted with clumps of hockers in various stages of moisture. I was on the top deck of a Chinese cruise ship heading down the mighty Yangtze River to the Three Gorges Dam when a guy spit on the astro turf floor. Oh my God! I thought everyone would be up in arms, because all around us kids were playing.

But, no one paid any attention to him or cleaned it up. I related the incident to my students who agreed that it is a disgusting habit. ” Be patient, Ruby, change takes time.”  So, at any moment, almost any place, one might hear the sound of a guy clearing his lungs-or where ever that stuff is stored. Arrrrgggghhh. Vanessa, a German girl I met on the cruise said, “I will never get used to that.”  Me either.

Three Gorges

Outside of Beijing and Shanghai I was stared at as if:
1. I was a celebrity.
2. A circus freak
3. Had spinach in my teeth
4  Was a foreigner.

I’m not talking about sly glances. I am talking about full-on staring- straight into your face without blinking kind of staring. It happened on the metro, in stores, on buses-everywhere I went.

On several occasions men came within two feet of me to stare up close. In my culture, that is invading my space; in China apparently any space is community space.

Let me be clear. I am not a beauty, but neither am I ugly. I am a perfectly respectable looking grandmother of a certain age-dressed appropriately for it.

I’m not used to being stared at. I’m uncomfortable with it. I find it rude. Nothing seemed to work to make them quit. I tried staring back, smiling, ignoring them. Occasionally I got a smile back, but not often enough to make it a rewarding experience. Please stop.

To get into Chongqing from the campus required the use of a campus bus and the metro. Teachers are supposed to have priority on the buses; but as the bus pulls up, the students mob the door, pushing and shoving to get through. Ditto for the metro. Stand behind the line and get ready to dash onto the car, pushing anyone: young, old, frail, out of the way so you get a seat.

It took me a few weeks of riding standing up, or waiting for the next bus to use my dangerous elbows as the weapons they’ve always been; I just didn’t appreciate them until they were needed.

Stand and stare at me all you want while I sit here relaxed reading my book.